Music therapy organization for special needs children expands to Mandarin

By Martie Thompson

Karen Demuth’s son Dante inspired her to form Connecting Thru Music, a program committed to bringing music therapy to children with special needs in the Duval County Public School System. Dante was born with Down syndrome and without an esophagus, leaving him non-verbal with hearing and visual deficits, but a great love for music.

“Research shows that music therapy, especially when combined with other therapy, has positive results with special needs children,” Demuth said.

By forming Connecting Thru Music, she said her goal is to bring music therapy to as many of the 60 schools Duval County that have dedicated classrooms for children with special needs as possible.

Started as a music program at Neptune Beach Elementary in 2017, the organization is now in the process of acquiring its 501 c 3 status and adding music therapy to its offerings. Music therapists are provided by business partner First Coast Music Therapy, led by Steven Amburn.

“It’s important for the public to understand the difference between music classes and music therapy,” Demuth said. “Music therapy is an educational tool that is vital for these special needs children who may not have a language. Music is their language. So music therapy is not just nice to have, but necessary.”
In January, Connecting Thru Music expanded to the Mandarin area with weekly Magical Music Fundays music classes at Mandarin Oaks Elementary. This is a 30-minute music class led by Kindermusik that is offered to all the self-contained ESE classrooms at the school. Demuth said the plan is to next offer music therapy at the school in the fall.

In Duval County there are minimal music therapy programs and none in the public schools, according to Demuth. She estimates that it takes $80,000 per school per year to keep the program viable. Connecting Thru Music is completely volunteer run and relies on community funding as well as corporate support.

Another initiative of the organization is to attract music therapists to Jacksonville. Music therapy is a four year degree and certification in Florida. The Jacksonville area is significantly behind in the important task of providing music therapy to children with special needs and Connecting Thru Music has partnered with Florida State University, the University of Miami and Gulf Coast University to try to bring music therapists to the area.

Demuth said, “There are so many success stories from music therapy. So many of these special needs children have started out their lives with unbelievable pain and challenges. Music has the ability to touch their hearts, to motivate them and to open their minds more than any other therapy. These children deserve the tool of music therapy and the joy of music in their lives.”

If you would like to help bring this vision to fruition, visit, email or call (904) 310-4827. The organization is seeking volunteers in the areas of marketing, website assistance and grant writing in addition to community donations and fundraiser assistance.


Photo courtesy Karen Demuth

Kindermusik teacher Dinah Frilling at Mandarin Oaks Elementary.